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John Van Workum March 25, 2001 11:36

Self-made codes vs. commercial
I've noticed throughout this discussion list many complaints about the cost of commercial cfd software. I was wondering: 1) How many rely on self-made codes to commericial codes? 2) Are self made codes (freeware/shareware/opensource) as reliable as commercial cfd software? 3) Is research being done using self-made codes exclusively?

John C. Chien March 25, 2001 15:11

Re: Self-made codes vs. commercial
(1). The best way to die is to use the commercial code. (2). But if you are paid to use commercial codes so that they can die faster, then there is nothing wrong to use the commercial code. (3). Based on my paid job experience, the use of commercial codes is to cover up the trouble of the company from the public, and most of the time bad results were covered up so that good picture can be painted to upper management or the public. (4). To know whether the company is in trouble, just ask who is doing the cfd work. The professional has his signature in his professional field. (5). You can't say the since everyone is polluting the air, so the conclusion is it is alright to do so. (6). Using the commercial codes is all right, because it is the intermediate solution. But if one use commercial codes as long term solution, he can not compete with others and eventually will die. (7). So, the use of commercial codes is to by additional time, so that long term solution can be found. As long as this is understood, it is not important to know whether a code is commercial or not. The solution is not in the codes, and it is essential to find the right person to solve the problem. (8).The codes he is going to use to solve the problem depends on the problem and the person. Since the problem can not find the right person, someone has to find the right person to find the right solution to the problem. If the right person can find the right solution, then the methods and codes he uses are not important at all.

John D. Van Workum March 25, 2001 21:56

Re: Self-made codes vs. commercial
Actually, I was wondering how extensive non-commercial CFD software is being used to solve real-world CFD problems.

John C. Chien March 26, 2001 01:35

Re: Self-made codes vs. commercial
(1). I can give you a hint. (2).A few years back, when I was working for a company over 50 years old, they have several hundred computer codes on the system for the product development. About half of that number were used on the routine basis. That means over a hundred. Aero-related codes must be several dozens. (3). There were a couple of commercial CFD codes on the system, being used to handle some non-standard applications. In most cases, the results could not match the test data. (4). This is only one example, but it is fairly typical. Most large and old companies have their codes for their product design and analysis. But this does not include all types of company.

Darcy March 26, 2001 06:00

Re: Self-made codes vs. commercial
I think self-made codes somewhat specifically purposed. The use of self-made codes in real CFD world is limited. You can use your own code well in the problem you have devoted. However people who use your codes to solve another problem will encounter many troubles. It is due to some bugs in your code. These bugs are not found in your application. They become active in other applications. They may come from many aspects such as incorrect mathmetical treatments for the physical phenomenon, unexpected singularities of determined coefficients, and improper matrix solver, etc. It takes time to modify a self-made code when these codes are used for different purposes. Many modifying and test must be done before the self-made codes become generally availible. All above is just some of my opinions.

Bubba March 26, 2001 09:37

Re: Self-made codes vs. commercial
Personally, If I could get a commercial code to work for my research I would use it, because they usually come with all sorts of goodies. But unfortunately when we use a commercial code it crashes. Every time. The change needed to make in the commercial code is simple but without the source code is practically impossible.

Sebastien Perron March 26, 2001 10:00

Re: Self-made codes vs. commercial
In My department, most of the engineers work with commercial codes. But for very specific jobs, they may used home made code.

From my point of view , commercial codes have one big advantage, they offer an overall solution: mesh generator, NS-Solver, and post-traitment. If you use a home made code, you have to find a software to generate your grid and another to do your post-traitment.

From the small experience I have with the industry, I can tell you that they prefer commercial codes. And not just one, depending on their needs, they may pay for two or three different softwares. For very specific jobs, they may ask a research group to develop a code.

John D. Van Workum March 26, 2001 10:05

Re: Self-made codes vs. commercial
Can the beowulf cluster support CFD usefully vs. SMP computers?

Does anyone know of a good non-commercial CFD software package designed to run on a beowulf-style cluster?

Alton J. Reich March 26, 2001 11:41

Re: Self-made codes vs. commercial

I think that the answer to your question depends on what you are trying to do. You really discuss three kinds of software: Commercial, Existing Freeware, and Self-Developed. The things that will drive you to a decision are: problem complexity, problem repitition, and schedule.

If you have a very specialized and complex problem, then you may have trouble finding any existing code that will solve it. You may now have a choice other than writing your own code to solve it. If you do use another type of code (commercial or freeware) then you will need to modify it to do what you require. Commercial codes usually allow the user to develop specialized subroutines and link them with the main body of the code. With freeware, you might have to tinker with the guts of the code, and you would have to do it without the benefit of user support.

If you only need to solve a very specific class of problem, then it may be best to write your own code, or get a freeware code that is good for that type of problem. Generally speaking, purpose developed codes get better answers on difficult problems than more general codes. This is simply because the developer knows the "correct" answer based on test data, and tweaks the code until it produces that answer. Commercial codes often include comprimises that don't necessarily make the answers wrong, but can cost accuracy in specific situations. The choice of turbulence model can make a significant difference in some situations, for example.

The final criteria is time. If I had time, I'd build a 1/4th scale replica of the Eiffel Tower in my back yard, but I don't. (That and my wife wouldn't appreciate loosing all that empty space behind the house.) A good engineer with a solid background in fluid mechanics, some modeling experience, and effective training can become proficient with a commercial CFD code in about 1 month. A moron will always be a moron. Developing, testing and tweaking your own code would require (I'm estimating here) at least 6 months. So it depends on how long you've got to devote to the effort. If you need a design in a couple of months, then you need to become proficient with a tool in a short period of time. If you're just taking your first class toward a Ph. D., and you've got 5 years, then you might as well start coding.

Regards, Alton

John C. Chien March 26, 2001 14:47

Re: Self-made codes vs. commercial
(1). Based on my experience, many companies failed because their products can not compete with other companies' products, for many reasons. (let's rule out MS.) (2). These companies all have their products on the market, so they have all solved their simple problems. They don't need a general code to solve their simple problems, that's what I am saying. (3). So, they are hoping that CFD can solve their complicated problems to give them some edge to win the competition. In other words, a large effort and small gain. (4). If the general code can not produce that small gain needed to win the competition, then is the faster solution still viable to keep the company in business? (5). I am not against the commercial codes. But if one-month training of an engineer is enough to take away jobs from a PhD, then they should shut down the school in the first place, include George Bush's plan to improve the educational system as well?

Alton J. Reich March 26, 2001 15:07

Re: Self-made codes vs. commercial

It depends on what you define as a simple problem. I'll give you an example:

I recently did some work for a friend of mine who works for a company that manufactures relief valves. They won a contract to provide a vacuum relief valve that would pass a certain flow rate of air at a fixed differential pressure.

As CFD problems go, it was not difficult, but as a design problem it caused them a great deal of trouble. They started out by designing the valve using tried and true handbook equations, and some scaling from a valve they had built 20 years ago (to different requirements). They did the engineering, made drawings, forged a valve body, machined and finally assembled a valve. Then they set it up in their test facility, set up the required differential pressure, and measured the flow rate. The result they got was much lower than they needed. What they had was a $30000 hunk of scrap and no firm idea of what to try next. That's why they came to me.

I treated the valve as axisymmetric (not very much of an assumption), and solved flow and turbulence. I was able to generate a mixed quad/tri grid in a day, and could run a solution to convergence in a few hours on my desktop computer. The flow rate I got was off by about 5%, but more important to them was that they could see that the valve was poorly shaped and why. Armed with that knowledge they redesigned the inside of the valve and I repeated the analysis. The computed flow rate was higher than they required, so they built a new valve. When the re-designed valve was tested the flow rate was within 3% of the computed value.

The moral of the story is that simple is a relative thing. They thought CFD analysis was complex, and their old analytical methods were easy. I looked at their situation and told (and then proved) that CFD is easy.

As for what people with Ph.D.s should do, the answer is obvious: go to work for commercial CFD companies developing new and better tool to put in the hands of the end-user.


John C. Chien March 26, 2001 18:23

Re: Self-made codes vs. commercial
(1). Very good. I think, you have just outlined how the CFD should work. (2). If the valve company had decided to send their engineers for one-month intensive training, what would be the chances of getting the good design by their engineers? (3). It seems to me that the key to the good design was the interpretation of the not very accurate cfd flow field results. So, I would say that it was likely a team guessing work. And it is equally possible that a person with extensive knowledge of fluid mechanics and flow field could also come up with a good design by just looking at the old design. (4). And if you give the old flow field and the new flow field to an engineer who had only one-month of training and without prior knowledge of the design problem, will he be able to pick the right flow field from the two results? (5). I think, we are telling the same story. And your story has everything we need for how to use CFD. (you are not just an engineer, you are one of the very few persons who read and write in cfd forum. ) And I have to say that it is a success story of "your" CFD application experience. You and I should be excluded from the examples.

ken elms March 26, 2001 18:26

Re: Self-made codes vs. commercial
Alton, It is nice to read that success does occur in CFD.Did you code the valve or use a commercial based code.That simple word -ASSUMPTION also can make striking differences and it crops up a lot in CFD.

A code for all known flow conditions-all the computing strength you can muster -but will the experts agree on the end results and moreso, will the product benefit hugely after a year or two in service.

John D. Van Workum March 26, 2001 21:03

Re: Self-made codes vs. commercial
Alton, thank you for your insightful answer.

It sounds like to me CFDs are solved with a combination of commercial and non-commercial software, dependent on the problem and company. The reason I'm bringing all this up is I have a new computing company and I'm exploring new sources of customers. I've shied away from the CFD industry in the past thinking it would not be cost effective to purchase expensive commercial CFD applications. We target opensouce/self-made codes and application users in science and industry. Basically we host machines that do the number crunching so that more number crunching can be done.

Would it be a valuable asset to be able to offset the non-commercial code number crunching effort to a third party?

Thank you all who have contributed to my original question. John

Manfred Schneider March 27, 2001 03:07

Re: Self-made codes vs. commercial
I totally agree!!

Bart Prast March 27, 2001 05:27

Re: Self-made codes vs. commercial
I'm glad some people still know how to apply (commercial) CFD codes for industry.

Steve Amphlett March 27, 2001 05:42

Re: Self-made codes vs. commercial
What you're demonstrating is that CFD is not as mature as other simulation tools. Who would even think of building a scale model for routine stress calculations these days? Furthermore, who would write their own solver for doing such calculations rather than taking one off the shelf?

Given time, CFD will travel down the same de-skilling route.

andy March 27, 2001 06:24

Re: Self-made codes vs. commercial
Concerning the open source codes I would be surprised if there was much business. If a company has the money to rent the computers then they will have the money to buy software. What they percieive is being bought is a reliable, easy to use and actively supported product. The truth of the matter obviously varies between the suppliers but the general standard in CFD is not poor in the way it is in some software sectors.

Companies do run non-commercial software developed internally or in partnership. The need to offload some of these runs at peak times certainly exists. If you can offer security then this market exists and does not require you to have commercial licenses. However, I suspect you would be competing with quite a few other companies since you would be offering nothing but computing time.

There are quite a few just about openly available and usable CFD programs out there and have been for a couple of decades. Their use is extremely limited outside the immediate circle of the originators with the exception of some of the codes from the large American labs. The reason is the perception that they are unreliable, difficult to use and unsupported. The truth of the matter obviously varies between the suppliers but generally the perception is probably about right with only a very limited number of exceptions.

For an open source product to suceeded it will need to address these problems, be successfully branded and promoted and have a reliable resource stream to maintain it. I am not aware of any open source project that is in a position to seriously address these issues or, for that matter, particularly wants to. For example, I cannot see any mechanism to make a sufficiently trained and knowledgeable person (not many) provide a significant amount of support to untrained CFD users except paying them a proper wage. I am distinguishing here between the bulk of CFD users who just want answers to help with the problems they are interested in and the smaller group of users who are interested in fluid mechanics/CFD as a subject - there are non-financial rewards for providing support to the latter).

John C. Chien March 27, 2001 08:03

Re: Self-made codes vs. commercial
(1). Even today, the structure failure is still not uncommon in new design of combustor, compressor blade, turbine blade, simple radial turbine volute, aircraft control surfaces, launch vehicle, rocket motors, etc...even with off-the-shelf finite element code analysis completed. (2). Failure normally is not printed in the company's newsletter. They don't want you to talk about it. It is bad for the company image and stock price. (3). It is still too early to say that FEM structure analysis is mature.

Jonas Larsson March 27, 2001 08:21

Re: Self-made codes vs. commercial
Most industries use commercial codes exclusively. However, there are a few important segments of the CFD market where in-house codes are used extensively for very large simulations. One application that comes to my mind is CFD for fans and compressors in gasturbines. As andy indicated the security issue is critical here though. I'm not sure if companies are willing to upload their in-house codes to an external computer and run simulations of future designs on it. The companies involved in this business are also very security minded and "old fascioned" in this respect. These simulations are often for military applications, which makes it even more difficult.

Perhaps you can find a similar market segment where security is not so critical...

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